Just recently, Quezon City Representative Alfred Vargas filed House Bill 5728, “An Act Ensuring the Rights, Welfare and Safety of the Workers in the IT-BPO industry in the Philippines,” aiming to enhance the working conditions and addressing professional development and career growth of this 1.2 million strong workforce. For an industry to be present more than a decade and a half here in the country, this is a welcome respite. There, indeed, should be legislation on how we protect the workforce in a sector that contributed $24.5 billion in revenue as of 2017, up by almost 10 percent from 2016, as reported by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).
There are many areas to look into and improve on. By design, most BPO companies, especially the large ones, cater to multinational companies that have made a business decision to outsource some of their functions and processes to the Philippines.
The contact center agents would then be employed to work by shifts, and according to an article published by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development under the Department of Science and Technology, shift work disrupts our body’s circadian rhythm, among other things, which may lead to long-term adverse effects.
In a BPO organization catering to customer service for example, one would expect that customers calling in would be generally irate or annoyed (possibly due to errors in billing for a telco company), making the entire experience to the agent stressful. To visualize this, imagine the agent absorbing all that unpleasant sentiment from a customer complaining of a bill overcharge, requesting escalation of the complaint to the agent’s manager, or any other remarks that may be expressed to highlight the dissatisfaction of the customer with the service to which he or she subscribed. The agents are trained and coached to respond in a professional manner, as any deviation will immediately go to the superior and may be evaluated for further coaching, which could lead to performance issues and concerns. Thus, the agent sits there at the desk, absorbing the whole experience and enduring even the risk of developing heart palpitations or chest pain as a result of this exercise.
The law requires BPO organizations to have a clinic with a nurse on duty for ease of access to medical care; in this case, it becomes a handy go-to for the call center agent to request some medication to reduce the stress and the pressure that come with the territory of such a job. This is the day in the life of a BPO employee – imagine what happens if one has been doing this for a very long period of time.
The clinic would be a good source of insights and data as to how the nature of the job in this industry impacts the welfare of the agents. There have also been cases of deaths, which must be looked into further to understand the severity of this matter.
This is where technology and its advancements come into the picture, with all these challenges faced by our workforce. This is an opportunity for us to take advantage of what is available in the technology space, leverage on this and ensure that we can upgrade and transition the skills of our workforce to make sure that the challenges they face at this time can be mitigated and addressed.
Nowadays, consumers are mostly inclined to do their transactions online and digitally, including customer service.
This is manifested by how one can quickly book a flight to somewhere just by using a smartphone or laptop. If there could be an issue with your ticket, you can now “talk” to “somebody” via chat, which in technology terms is done by using a chatbot, not a real person. This is now possible through the use of an omni channel platform where the BPO can address customer service concerns through the use of non-voice functionalities, which help take out the stressful part in the agent’s job. More and more companies in the market are looking into this capability as they realize that the customers they serve are increasingly becoming more tech-savvy or digitally inclined.
This also presents an opportunity to upgrade the skills of our workforce, which would help in their professional growth and career development. To be honest, given the data that the agent is trained to look into to understand the customer, there has to be a career roadmap for the agent to later on transition to data analysis roles. I know of one who started as a customer service agent but is now the country lead for data science and analytics for a ride-hailing company. This transition is possible and would greatly help in protecting and sustaining the welfare of our workforce.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is an executive of a multinational business process outsourcing company. She is likewise the deputy director of Global Chamber Manila. Her advocacies include data privacy, financial literacy, and nation-building. The author may be reached at email@example.com or, to the more cautious now, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions are her own.